Posts tagged ‘divinity of Christ’
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
John’s depiction of Jesus as the Word of God made flesh is of course well known. Not so well known is the possibility that Matthew had a similar thought, considering Jesus to be the Torah made flesh.
There was a rabbinical saying that “Where two or three are gathered together to study the Torah, there the presence of God is in the midst of them.” So when Matthew has Jesus say “Where two are three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them”, he seems to suggest that Jesus is the embodiment of the Torah.
This interpretation fits very well with the rest of Matthew.
Contrary to what you might have heard from the The DaVinci Code, the earliest Christians already considered Jesus to be divine—a claim that likely came from Christ Himself. Now C. S. Lewis gave three possibilities as to how we may judge Jesus’ claim:
(1) He might have told lies. But then we must rank Him as possibly the greatest hypocrite in history. If He, who exhorted people toward honesty and rebuked the Pharisees sharply for portraying an image of themselves which belied their true selves—if this teacher of morality knowingly led people into believing the biggest lie in the universe, then He must have been the devil. But would the devil have willingly died for his hypocrisy and still prayed for his enemies on the cross? Hardly. Therefore He could not have possibly been a coldly calculating liar.
(2) He might have been insane. But our reading of the Gospels tells us a different story. Even non-Christians revere Jesus for His example in morality, for His people skills, and for His shrewd and level-headed answers in the midst of controversy. Such are not the marks of a madman. Some object to this by citing the example of the mathematician John Nash. He could be classified as insane, and yet he was a brilliant mathematician whose mathematic formulas were recognized as true. Likewise, it is said, Jesus could have been a great moral teacher while still being deluded to think he was God. But the comparison fails. Jesus acted as sanely as any man ever has in all circumstances and areas of life. John Nash was a brilliant mathematician, but in other areas of his life his medical problem could not be hidden. But Jesus appears as a sane man throughout—not merely in His moral teachings. Jesus was clearly not insane. Which leaves us with the third option.
(3) Jesus was truly God. Some people say Jesus might have been God in a pantheistic sense. But a reading of the New Testament suggests nothing of the kind. Jesus’ claim of divinity has to be interpreted in light of the Old Testament picture of God, not in light of Eastern pantheism. There is no historical evidence that Jesus had been to India in His youth, for instance, as some suggest.
Lewis’ conclusion: Either fall on your knees and worship Him or reject Him as the devil, but stop blabbering about Him as simply a great man.
It is this so-called “trilemma” that can be said forms the crucial point of C. S. Lewis’ argument: Jesus as a liar, lunatic, or God.
Recently, several high-profile atheists have derided this reasoning of Lewis. Christopher Hitchens said that Lewis really should have known better than putting forth an argument like that, which is “so pathetic as to defy description and which takes his two false alternatives as exclusive antithesis, and then uses them to fashion a crude non sequitur.”
Oxford’s Richard Dawkins dismisses Lewis in a similar fashion. In an interview on April 29, 2008, Fanny Kiefer asked him,
“When you read some of C. S. Lewis’ work (…), who was a Christian communicator with a fertile mind and a great intellect, why do you think someone who is a scholar, top-of-the-chain thinker is grabbed by faith?”
“Well, you could pick a much better target than C. S. Lewis. You could pick some actually very distinguished scientists. He, after all, was a professor of English, and no doubt a very good one. But when you read some of his arguments, they are just pathetic. Things like: Well, Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, so either Jesus was mad, or bad, or He really was the Son of God. It did not seem to occur to him that Jesus could simply be mistaken, sincerely and honestly mistaken. I mean, what a pathetic argument.”
Now C. S. Lewis’ argument is open to criticism, but hardly to criticism as cheap as that. Someone who is honestly “mistaken” about being God—well, such a person would qualify as being insane, wouldn’t he? If I started to believe that I am a dog and I acted upon my belief—crawled on all fours, made strange barking noises, ate food from the floor without using my hands—wouldn’t people consider me insane? No one would say, “He is a great moral teacher and a completely sane man, but he is just sincerely mistaken in considering himself a dog instead of a man.” And how much less would you say that about someone who considers Himself the Creator of the universe and starts acting accordingly? Such a man is either insane, a liar, or what He claims to be.
As a general argument, therefore, the trilemma is perfectly logical. It is certainly not “pathetic,” as Dawkins and Hitchens would have it. Applied to Jesus in first-century Palestine, however, it is not a watertight line of reasoning. That is because the Bible gives a very incomplete picture of the actual history of Palestine, especially the Protestant Bible. Protestants read the last verse of Malachi, turn to Matthew, and—voila!—miraculously all these Christian doctrines spring forth. Whereas in the Old Testament, the Messiah was little more than a David-like king who would return Israel to its glory days, now He is this godlike figure—the Son of God—who has come to dispel the dark rule of Satan over the present world and judge the living and the dead. He has come not merely as a human king to sit on a human throne, but with the authority to forgive sin. Faced with this contrast, we may indeed exclaim, “Mad, bad, or God!”
But such a conclusion ignores an important fact, namely that these doctrines about the Messiah are not uniquely Christian at all. Jesus did not make them up due to an unstable mind or divine revelation. Rather, they gradually developed within Judaism in the centuries prior to Christ—again not due to people suffering from insanity or receiving divine revelation, but in a wholly understandable historical process.
(Read more about this historical process in my comprehensive volume The C. S. Lewis Book on the Bible: What the Greatest Christian Writer Thought About the Greatest Book.)